On Being a Spiritual Parent (Acts 16:1-3)

This year, my oldest daughter, Mercedes, will be turning ten. This year, I turned forty years old. As much as I hate to admit it, I always wanted to be older. When I turned thirty, I wanted to be forty, people would ask me why and I would say that forty is the perfect age for a pastor. Thirty is too young for people, but forty is just right. I have now served in full time ministry in three older congregations, so forty still does not seem to be the right age, now I want to be fifty. Well, maybe, God is teaching me contentment with my age. In 2017 the average life expectancy of an American man was 76.1 years old.[1] However, it has been going down, not up. Age is relative to the person. Literally, ask a child an age and they will say twenty is old. To most of you forty is young, though it is technically middle age. Over the last several months, and even last few years, I have realized that the desire to be older could make me miss-out on my children’s younger years. My dad tells me his greatest joys were raising his three boys. Likewise, I am really, REALLY enjoying being a dad. Being a dad is greater than any job that I have had. I worked at Lowe’s in the hardware department and the paint department, but being a dad is far greater than that. I worked at Tractor Supply Company, but being a dad beats that job. I worked at a Dayton pet store, but being a dad is greater than that. I worked as a McDonald’s shift manager and being a dad is more important than that. I worked as an associate pastor, in that role I worked with youth and children. I was able to teach the kids, play games with the kids, and send them home. I love being a dad more than that. I am in my eleventh year serving as a lead pastor, but my favorite job, my favorite calling, is dad. I remember when Mercedes was just born seeing my name with “father” or “dad” on the forms. It was a special moment. I think I will always be dad to my two girls, but I want to be careful of rushing the younger years.

For the young dads here, or watching online, as well as for those who are always rushing to the next task and missing the moment I have this illustration:  

Swindoll shares this in “Come Before Winter”:

Someday when the kids are grown, things are going to be a lot different. The garage won’t be full of bikes, electric train tracks on plywood, sawhorses surrounded by chunks of two-by-fours, nails, a hammer and a saw, unfinished “experimental projects,” and the rabbit cage. I’ll be able to park both cars neatly in just the right places, and never again stumble over skateboards, a pile of papers (saved for the school fund drive), or the bag of rabbit food—now spilled. Ugh!

Someday when the kids are grown, the kitchen will be incredibly neat. The sink will be free of sticky dishes, the garbage disposal won’t get choked on rubber bands or paper cups, the refrigerator won’t be clogged with nine bottles of milk, and we won’t lose the tops to jelly jars, catsup bottles, the peanut butter, the margarine, or the mustard. The water jar won’t be put back empty, the ice trays won’t be left out overnight, the blender won’t stand for six hours coated with the remains of a midnight malt, and the honey will stay inside the container.…

Yes, someday when the kids are grown, things are going to be a lot different. One by one they’ll leave our nest, and the place will begin to resemble order and maybe even a touch of elegance. The clink of china and silver will be heard on occasion. The crackling of the fireplace will echo through the hallway. The phone will be strangely silent. The house will be quiet, and calm, and always clean, and empty, and filled with memories, and lonely, and we won’t like it at all. And we’ll spend our time not looking forward to Someday but looking back to Yesterday. And thinking, “Maybe we can baby-sit the grandkids and get some life back in this place for a change!”[2]

Not all men are dads, but all men can have a spiritual paternal influence. That is what I want to talk about today.

The reality is there are many children without a father. There are many children without a spiritual father. In the Bible Timothy was one of those children. He needed a spiritual father and Paul took care of that job.

Theme: I want us to look at Paul serving as a spiritual father to Timothy.

I encourage you to take seriously your role as a spiritual parent. Make disciples of young people, this is most important in your children, then your grandchildren, but also others whom God places in your life.

Let’s read Acts 16:1-3:

Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. A disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek. He was well spoken of by the brothers at Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek

  • Let’s talk about Paul and Timothy.
    1. We just read Acts 16:1-3 and in that passage, we see that Paul met Timothy and was obviously impressed. From this passage we see that Timothy’s mother was Jewish, but his father was Greek. Paul wanted to take him along. From all indications Timothy’s father was not a believer in Jesus. After this Timothy goes with Paul. We see Timothy show up much in Paul’s letters.
    2. In 1 Tim. 1:2 Paul writes To Timothy, my true child in the faith
    3. Paul compares Timothy to a spiritual son.
    4. Then in 2 Timothy 1:2 Paul again writes: To Timothy, my beloved child… Again, we see Paul and Timothy’s relationship.
      • They had likely traveled together for 10 years.[3]
      • They obviously had a special bond. 1 and 2 Timothy are written to Timothy from the Apostle Paul while Timothy was serving as the interim pastor in Ephesus.
    5. Then, one more passage I will show you. In Phil. 2:22: Paul writes: But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel.
  • Let’s talk about serving as a spiritual parent.
    1. What is this like?
    2. It is not meaning simply going fishing together, though spiritual advise can be passed on during a fishing trip.
    3. It is not meaning simply activities. I am not talking about simply hanging out with someone younger than you.
    4. This is talking about discipleship.
    5. This is about mentoring someone younger than you in the faith and in the ministry. The Gospel is at the center of serving as a spiritual parent. However, understand the Gospel must be at the center of being a parent (see Deut. 6:1-9).
    6. Serving as a spiritual parent does begin with a relationship with someone younger than you, but it continues as you study the Bible together. As you model what it means to be a man or woman of God. Serving as a spiritual parent continues as you share life together, but in doing so you are modeling and teaching how to be a man or woman of God. You are modeling service to the church. You are modeling and teaching evangelism, discipleship, worship, ministry, and fellowship. Being a spiritual parent means that the Gospel is everything.
    7. If we do not teach our biological children the Gospel we have taught them nothing worthwhile. If we have relationships with others younger than us but we do not teach them the Gospel we have taught them absolutely nothing worthwhile. They die and it is the end of anything good.
    8. My youth pastor was my spiritual father. He was older than my father and he was living for Jesus and my father was not. He discipled me as he taught me the Bible, but he also discipled me as we served the church together, we had lunch together, we worked together. He modeled integrity and Christian values. I remember going with him to pick up an old truck he was restoring. The man was signing the title over and said, “How much do you want me to put down that you bought this for?” This was because you have to pay taxes on every dollar, so the seller was willing to just put down a dollar. My youth pastor had him put down the correct price. He modeled integrity. He modeled service. He modeled being a Christian father and grandfather.
  • Application: Serve as a paternal influence to others.
    1. Who has God placed in your life for you to serve in that spiritual paternal influence role?
    2. Right down a name in your bulletin and take it home and pray about it.
    3. This may be your children and grandchildren, nephew, or neighbor, or employee.
    4. Slow down and make time.
    5. This is true for all of us. Often times we miss what God wants us to do because we do not allow margin in our time to serve.
    6. Some of the most important moments I have had with my children have been inconvenient. Several years ago, probably 5 or 6 years ago, Mercedes woke up sick. I got up with her and thought I am going to get some work done. I started doing dishes. You know what she wanted? She wanted me to sit with her, not do dishes. There was a time period from when Mercedes was 2 years old until she was 5 in which she would get a bad cough and eventually vomit. It was corrected when she got her tonsils taken out. There were many, many nights I sat up with her watching Curious George. You know what? I would not trade those nights for the world. Some of the most important moments are inconvenient.

I read the following:

Truett Cathy is probably best known for his Chick-Fil-A restaurants, and while I like the food he helped make popular, I’m most appreciative of the work he does to help boys who face the prospect of growing up without a father.

Mr. Cathy has been mentoring youngsters for more than sixty years. He runs a camp and a foster- care program designed to help give children of broken homes a second chance at life. It’s an inspiring program. Boys are matched with mentors and father figures, and some are even placed in full-time Christian foster homes. Many are given the opportunity to work side by side with Mr. Cathy on a beautiful farm in the rolling hills of Rome, Georgia.

Truett Cathy is a well-seasoned Southern gentleman. But he’s more than a nice guy with business savvy. He knows how boys think. Most important, he knows what they need: a father or— at the very least— a strong male role model. Mr. Cathy travels the country with a simple but strong message: you can make a difference! It’s better to build boys than to have to mend men.[4]

So, next time you complain about the next generation, pray. Pray that God would send you a young person to serve as a spiritual parent.


[1] https://www.cbsnews.com/news/life-expectancy-for-american-men-drops-for-a-third-year/

[2] Charles R. Swindoll, The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart and 1501 Other Stories (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2016), 410–411.

[3] See George W. Murray, “Paul’s Corporate Witness in Philippians,” Bibliotheca Sacra 155:619 (JulySeptember 1998):316-26. Seen in Dr. Constable’s notes on Phil. 2:22: http://www.soniclight.com/constable/notes/pdf/philippians.pdf

[4] John Fuller with Paul Batura. First Time Dad, the Stuff You Really Need to Know. Moody Publishers, Chicago 2011.

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